A SYRIAN refugee has spoken of his happiness at being able to vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

Munther Nouraldeen is able to take part as the result of a ground-breaking law passed by the Scottish Parliament last year which extended the right to vote to everyone over the age of 16 with leave to remain in the country, including people with refugee status.

Scotland is the first country in the UK to give refugees the right to vote in national elections. Only a handful of countries, many in Scandinavia, allow any foreign nationals to vote at all, and most of those only after they have resided in the country for at least three years.

Nouraldeen, a former English teacher who has been living in Scotland for six years after fleeing war-torn Syria, told the Sunday National this would be the first time he had ever voted in “fair and genuine elections”.

The 36-year-old, who is now an interpreter for the Scottish Refugee Council and is also studying for a PhD in refugee education at the University of Glasgow, said he would like to thank the Scottish people and the Scottish Government for giving refugees the opportunity to be involved in the elections.

“It indicates that Scotland is a welcoming country,” he said. “Scotland is the first country all over the world which allows refugees to be involved in the election process. That means Scotland is an inclusive country and celebrates diversity.”

He added: “This is the first time I have been able to vote so I feel excited. I feel happy to be able to vote in this democratic process because elections in Scotland are democratic and fair.

“In the Middle East, particularly in Syria, elections look like comic drama which aims to entertain the audience through extreme exaggeration and ridiculous situations. While drama brings entertainment to the audience, the elections bring pain, fear and oppression to the people. When I was in Syria I can’t remember voting. Elections are not genuine there.”

The Scottish Refugee Council is currently encouraging people to vote and in conjunction with the Electoral Commission has launched resources and information leaflets.

“Voting is a key part of political engagement but having the right to vote also contributes to people’s sense of community and belonging, the realisation and enjoyment of their civic and social rights and the facilitation of integration which supports people to rebuild their lives,” said the council’s policy officer Hannah Pearson. “Extending the voting franchise to refugees was one positive thing to happen in 2020 and it’s been very exciting seeing so many New Scots register to vote in the election this year.”

MARYHILL Integration Network (MIN) in Glasgow was one of the organisations involved in the campaign to extend the vote to refugees.

Pinar Aksu, MIN development officer, said it sent a “strong message to the rest of the world” about how refugees should be welcomed. A key part of achieving this historical change in the legislation was the involvement of the lived experience during the process of talking with MSPs and sharing their stories,” said Aksu. “This change sends out a strong message to the rest of the world of how you can welcome refugees – by treating them as citizens of the country where they live.”

While welcoming the extension of the vote to refugees, MIN and the Scottish Refugee Council are continuing to campaign for the right to be given to asylum seekers.

An amendment to last year’s bill put forward by the Scottish Greens that would have allowed asylum seekers the right to vote was rejected, with both the SNP and Tories opposed.

“We are keen to restart the dialogue to ensure people seeking asylum are also included in having the right to vote in future elections,” said Aksu.